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1376 Gregory strikes out

On 31st May 1376 Pope Gregory XI sent a Papal Bull to England attacking the teachings of John Wyclif and ordering the University of Oxford to arrest him and imprison the man. Adam had identified the threat of Wyclif's teaching long before the elders of the Church, in Avignon or Rome, had understood the significance of what he was saying.

In fact Adam was the only member of the Papal Court who had copies of Wyclif's works containing the attacks on the Church. The Bull of Gregory hints at this noting that the Church in Rome was taking action before anything had been done in England. This was slightly unfair as it was the English Benedictines who had provided Adam with the necessary details to start the process of damning Wyclif and his followers. Nonetheless the driving force behind Gregory's bull and the condemnation of Wyclif in general was undoubtedly the one man at the curia who knew what Wyclif had said and understood the threat he posed - and that was Adam Easton:

Bull of Gregory XI : Admonishing Oxford University for not taking action against the teaching of John Wyclif

Gregory, bishop, servant of God, to his beloved sons the Chancellor and University of Oxford, in the diocese of Lincoln, greetings and apostolic benediction.

We are forced to both be amazed and grieved that you, who, in consideration of the freedoms and privileges conceded to your University of Oxford by the apostolic seat and on account of your knowledge of the Scriptures, in whose oceans you row navigating with blessings given by God, who ought to be fighters , warriors and champions of orthodox faith, without which there is no salvation of souls; amongst the pure wheat in the fields of your glorious University aforesaid, idleness and indolence have allowed weeds to sprout; and even more pernicious, to ripen in maturity: nor even the extirpation of these weeds troubles you to action, as has been reported to us recently; clouding over a gleaming name, bringing danger to your souls, contempt to the Roman Church and detriment to the faith here mentioned. And what hurts us harshly is that the increase in these weeds is felt in Rome before the remedy of extirpation has been applied in England from whence they sprang.

Many have insinuated, confident in this belief, deploring the intimation that has come to our ears that John Wyclif rector of the Church of Lutterworth in the Diocese of Lincoln, professor of the sacred pages, if only he were not also Master of Errors, has broken out into that detestable madness that several propositions and conclusions that are erroneous and false and preaching heretical philosophy: that the status of the whole Church and even the secular politic is subverted and weakened: certain of these, in changed forms, feel as if they are the perverse opinions and untutored learning of Marsilius of Padova of damned memory and John of Jensen whose book, our predecessor, John XXII of blessed memory stood forth and rejected and damned: he has dogmatically and publicly preached vomiting from his breast these irreverent and poisonous bolts across the Kingdom of England, truly glorious in power and abundant in means but more glorious for the ripening of faith and piety and its clarity (of understanding in) the sacred pages; accustomed to producing men glorified for their right understanding of the divine Scriptures, mature in the gravity of their behaviour, conspicuous in their devotion and defenders of the catholic faith: he has defiled certain of the faithful in Christ, sprinkling them and their faith (with his teaching) and leading them from true paths to the brink of perdition.

Wherefore, we are unwilling just as we ought not to wish to be inactive and ignore so deadly a pestilence which, if not opposed from the start and plucked out be the roots, it will be too late to prepare medicine, when through infection it has been contagious to many:

We command your University, to warn and detract from as is necessary those opinions, conclusions and propositions spoken in bad faith or against good morals, (we command) by apostolic authority through the virtue of your sacred obedience, and under penalty of the deprivation of all the favours, indulgences, and privileges granted to you and your University by the concession of the said (Holy) See; and otherwise not to assert or propose such things even  when those struggling to defend them use elaborate weaving of words or terms. On our authority the said John is to be seized, or to be arrested and sent under trustworthy custody to our venerable brothers the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London or to either of them.

If perhaps there are, God forbid, in the said University subject to your jurisdiction, opponents polluted with the same errors, if they obstinately persist, proceed with fervour and similarly capture and remove them and otherwise as you see fit. Use foresight to make good the negligence attached to those premises (ie Oxford University) and win our grace and benevolence and that of our (Holy) see with the deserved reward of divine recompense.

Given at Rome, near Santa Maria Maggiore, the day before Kalends of June (ie 31st May Kalends was the first day of the month) in the sixth year of our pontificate.

Taken from Fasciculi Zizaniorum ( a manuscript believed to date from the reign of Henry V)